The Hamlet Psalm
Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?
For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared.
I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the LORD, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the LORD, for with the LORD there is mercy;
With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
The iambic pentameter that brings the plays of William Shakespeare vividly to life contains all the information—all the clues—that one needs to understand his characters. Lines that start with an “O” signal acute emotion. Words or phrases that might be repeated mean something vitally important is being conveyed. That brings me to Psalm 130, often subtitled de profundis—“Out of the depths.” I’ve nicknamed it the Hamlet Psalm. After all, who is responding to “out of the depths” circumstances more than Hamlet? But the stanza in Psalm 130 that reminds me most of Hamlet the play is the fifth: “My soul waits for the LORD, more than watchmen for the morning.” Hamlet opens with a scene on a castle rampart where watchmen are fearful of what the night could bring. (If you’re familiar with the play, you know that they have reason to be nervous: the ghost of Hamlet’s father is going to make an appearance.) Now note that the psalmist repeats the phrase “more than watchmen for the morning.” Centuries later, Shakespeare includes two scenes in the first act of Hamlet that involve the night watch. These watchmen: they’re important, but why?
One interpretation of the allusion in Psalm 130 draws on the custom in ancient Israel that one of the Levites, who kept the night watch in the Temple, was appointed to announce the moment of the dawn, a liturgically key moment, because it was then the daily sacrifice was to be offered. The Levites are said to have watched eagerly for the first glimmer of dawn. Brightening skies meant a dark, possibly cold, night’s work was past and an act—the sacrifice—symbolizing God’s covenant mercy was about to occur.
Sunrise, then, became a moment of blessing, an assurance of God’s abiding love. Creation guarantees us this daily Holy Greeting—“God’s recreation of the new day.” During Lent, I’m considering how I emerge out of the darkness each morning. What’s my first action, my first response? What’s the first light I encounter each morning? From the iPhone I grasp for in the half-light? A peek of the actual new day through the window blinds? A step outside, when I let the dog out and look up at the sky? What daily morning moment can I create to remind me I am a Child of God?
Appointed readings for today: Ezekiel 37:21-28, Psalm 85: 1-7, John 11:45-53